Breaking Baz: Gillian Anderson & Jason Isaacs Set For Film Adaptation Of Bestseller The Salt Path As Director Marianne Elliott Makes Switch From Stage To Screen — Cannes Market

EXCLUSIVE: Gillian Anderson and Jason Isaacs will star in the film adaptation of Raynor Winn’s bestselling memoir The Salt Path. Marianne Elliott, the Tony Award and Olivier Award winning theater artist, is to make her screen-directing debut on the project which will be a nice one in the Cannes market for Rocket Science. Black Bear has already snapped up UK rights.

Winn’s memoir is about a couple who lose their home and days later discover the husband has been diagnosed with a terminal illness as they embark on a yearlong coastal trek. The book spent a whopping 85 weeks on the London Sunday Times book chart.

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Elliott, best known for theater work, directed War Horse and The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time and the seminal revivals of Angels In America, Company and Death of a Salesman in London and on Broadway. The Salt Path is her filmmaking debut.

Anderson (The Crown, Sex Education) and Issacs (Mass, The Death of Stalin) will portray Raynor and her husband Moth.

In official circles, the Salt Path is known as the South West Coast Path — England’s longest footpath. Way back in the day it was the trail favoured by the coast guard watching out for smugglers using the coves and estuaries to stash their goods.

Elliott: ‘Time To Grab Opportunity’

Elliott was in New York opening an acclaimed revival of Stephen Sondheim’s Company when the pandemic shuttered theaters in 2020.

“I came back from America and I thought, ‘Oh, my God is theater ever going to get back?’, “Elliott recalled.

What could she do? Elliott wondered it was “the time for me to grab the opportunity to try and direct a film” as she’d previously had general meetings with movie producers, such as Number 9’s Elizabeth Karlsen, over the years.

“Theater is such a hungry beast,” that there was never the time to consider a change in direction, she added.

Walking in London provided the inspiration for the switch in the end. “I remembered this book about, well, walking,” said Elliott.

She soon got back in touch with Karlsen, who looked into the rights and found that The Salt Path rights had been acquired by Lloyd Levin and Beatriz Levin (Da 5 Bloods, The Mauritanian).

“I’d been wanting to work with Marianne for years,” said Karlsen. She laughed as she shared with me a conversation she’d had with an old friend of Elliott’s “who was amazed that we’d finally got her to make a film.”

Both Karlsen and Elliott thought that with the Levin’s in possession of the option there was no way that the film would come to them. However, they called Karlsen and suggested they join forces to produce it. 

Karlsen agreed on the proviso that Elliott would direct it.

Bingo. Both Lloyd and Beatriz Levin agreed.

Now, nearly three years later, the film, with a screenplay by Rebecca Lenkiewicz (She Said, Small Axe, The Woman in White), the film is due to start shooting in less than three weeks.

Bed And Breakfast

Author Raynor Winn had been happy running a bread and breakfast business in Wales until a family friend who’d known Moth since childhood betrayed them. They became embroiled in a court case which left them destitute.

Days later Moth was diagnosed with corticobasal degeneration (CBD) an incurable neurological disease. “One of the things that happens is that it interferes with your memory,” Elliott told me.

They later set off on the hike around the South West Coast Path from Somerset to Dorset, via Devon and Cornwall, but Raynor worried that Moth wouldn’t remember their walk, the wild camping or any of the people they encountered en route, so she wrote her memoir as a reminder for him. Their daughter read it and said urged her to get it published. “It’s a memory journal of a journey that took a year to accomplish, but more than that it’s about the absolute desperation they’d endured that brought them to this point and this walk gave them time to think,” said Elliot.

They had an old tent they bought on eBay and very little money. 

Elliott, Raynor and Moth are all in their fifties, one reason the director pursued the book. “They are rebirthed in their fifties as completely positive beings,” she said.

New beginnings all round, then, I said. “Absolutely new beginnings,” she laughed.

And she’s loving the idea of working with Anderson and Isaacs.

Hair and makeup designer Emily Bilverstone (No Time To Die) worked with Anderson on Sex Education  and has been designing the star’s look for The Salt Path. “Gillian’s brilliant at kind of morphing and has thrown herself into it,” Elliott observed.

The film’s a big switch for Elliott & Harper Productions, the production company she Elliott and husband Nick Sidi (Prime Suspect: Tennison) co-founded with Chris Harper, a former National Theatre producer. 

Theatre is not being forsaken. The partnership is undertaking two huge theatre projects in 2024-25 and there’s the possibility of more movies, though one particular project has complex rights issues that may take some time to resolve.

Just because you direct stage work, it does not automatically follow that you’ll make it making movies. However, Elliott’s theatre work does have a cinematic flair, a sort of compelling visual language and fluidity.

The Salt Path is produced by Karlsen and Stephen Woolley for Number 9 Films (Living, Carol) and Lloyd Levin and Beatriz Levin for Shadowplay Features.

Harper and Sidi are executive producers for Elliott & Harper (Company, Death of a Salesman) along with Kristin Irving for BBC Film, Norman Merryand Peter Hampden for LipSync Productions and Thorsten Schumacher for Rocket Science, which is handling worldwide sales at the Cannes market. Black Bear Pictures will distribute in the UK.

Other territories sold include Australia, New Zealand (Transmission), Germany (DCM), Benelux (The Searchers), The Film Group (Greece) and Cinesky (Airlines).

Elliott has assembled department heads that includes Hélène Louvartas director of photography, whose work I watched Louvart work when I visited the set of Karim Ainouz’s Firebrand last year. Costume designer is Matthew Price (Everything I Know About Love, The Nest), production designer is Christina Moore (A Very British Scandal) and the casting director is Dixie Chassay (Persuasion, The Favorite).

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